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The Crown of Worms

by Geoff Gander

"And he came unto lost Yath-Khe in the wilds, and spake not of what he saw, lest the Evil Ones that lived therein steal away his soul. Ever after he gibbered of Yurrgh-Thal, Lord of the Worm That Gnaws, and looked not into the darkest caverns, lest he see the ever-eating Pestilence."

--James Addelston, "Midnight Dreams and Other Miscellany", published AC 1003 in Selenica by J.P. Ironfoot & Sons

The Crown of Worms is a truly malevolent magical item. Though not an artifact, its power and history are enough to have made it the desire of numerous quests of power. In appearance it looks like a dull grey iron crown, lacking any form of colour or ornamentation. What makes this item truly disgusting to the beholder is the fact that, above the iron headband, the remainder of the Crown's body appears to be made of petrified maggots and worms, all seemingly frozen in writhing poses. The air immediately surrounding the Crown also reeks of decay, forcing anyone within 20 feet of this item to Save vs. Poison or be violently ill for 2 rounds.

The Crown is a gift of the Outer Being known as Yurrgh-Thal, otherwise known as the Lord of the Worm That Gnaws. His domain is that of decay in all its forms, both physical and moral. He created the Crown as a means of making his chosen champion more powerful, as well as serving his own aims of destroying healthy life wherever it exists. The first known wearer was a barbarian warlord named Thramis, who found it amidst the ruins of the great Carnifex city of Yath-Khe, in what is now the Izondian Desert. A simple person, Thramis fell easily under the influence of the Crown, and soon raised a horde of undead that terrorised northern Davania for over a century, laying waste to many villages and towns. It was only due to the massed might of the Milenian Empire that Thramis was brought low, though the Crown was lost.

When worn, the Crown radiates a sickly greenish glow, and the worms and maggots comprising much of its bulk begin to slowly writhe and crawl. The wearer, when donning the Crown, must make a Save vs. Spells at -5, or immediately fall under the Crown's power. Making this save allows the wearer to control the Crown's abilities, but this contest of wills must be made each time the Crown is worn. If the wearer fails the save, the Crown takes control of the wearer's body, and converts it for its own purposes.

The conversion is horrible to behold, and takes only one turn of game time. The wearer's skin turns a greenish-grey colour, and almost immediately begins to emit a foul odour, reminiscent of decay. Additionally, some of the worms comprising the Crown burrow into the wearer's skin - the wounds never healing as long as the Crown is worn - and reproduce inside. Within one week, the possessed wearer's body is filled with worms and maggots, so many that several drop off of his or her person each day. These creatures are unusually large for their species, being roughly six inches long, and a pinkish grey in colour. These foul creatures do not harm the wearer, though they do serve a more malign purpose. Once this process is complete, the possessed wearer's Charisma is reduced to one-third its former value, rounding down. If a wearer succeeds his or her save, the conversion does not happen. Needless to say, in both cases, the alignment of the wearer becomes chaotic once the Crown is worn.

Whether the wearer is possessed or not, several of the Crown's powers are available. The wearer may control undead as though he or she was an undead liege of equivalent level, equating Hit Dice with level; and he or she can also detect the presence of undead within a five mile radius. Thus, a 15th level individual who wears the Crown could control undead as powerful as lesser vampires. Another gift of the Crown is a paralysing gaze - anyone looking into the wearer's eyes must make a Save vs. Paralysis at -4 or be paralysed with fear for 1d6 rounds. Wearers of the Crown can also summon, once per day, a Lesser Servitor of Yurrgh-Thal, who will obey the wearer's commands for 1d6 hours before returning to its own plane. Finally, the wearer can also cast shield, curse, speak with the dead, and animate dead up to ten times per day.

Wearers who are possessed by the Crown gain another power, due to the crawling horrors that inhabit their bodies. When in combat, a possessed wearer may spew worms at an opponent instead of attacking normally. A normal attack roll is made, and if the opponent is hit, they are covered with writhing, biting maggots. The victim then takes 1d6 points of damage each round, unless they try to brush the maggots off. This action takes three rounds, during which the victim still suffers damage. Should a victim die from this attack, the maggots will burrow into the body, and it immediately animates as a zombie, under the control of the wearer. If the wearer already controls the maximum amount of undead he or she can, then the zombie wanders aimlessly.

If someone is possessed by the Crown, or simply wearing it, there is only one way to remove the Crown from them. If a remove curse spell is cast by a lawful cleric of at least 15th level, the Crown returns to its stony state for 1d4 rounds, during which it may be removed safely. A raise dead fully spell may also be cast by any cleric of 15th level or greater, to the same effect. Finally, the magic user spell nullify Outer power may be cast on the Crown, in which case it becomes dormant for 1d2 days. Unfortunately, the Crown may not be destroyed by any mortal means, not even by a wish. If the Crown is removed from a possessed wearer, his or her skin colour returns to normal in 1d6 hours, and the foul odour dissipates almost immediately. The worms and maggots inhabiting the wearer's body also vacate their host, leaving through the wounds they inflicted on the wearer's body. Those wounds heal normally.